Michael Sestak, a former US Foreign Service Officer and one-time chief of the non-immigrant visa unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a money-for-visas scheme, which US prosecutors called “one of the largest bribery schemes involving a Foreign Service Officer in the history of the United States.” The ex-diplomat admitted to approving nearly 500 visas over a two-year period in exchange for $3 million in bribes, which he funneled through China and invested in real estate in Thailand.
Sestak, a former police officer and US Marshal, collaborated with Binh Tang Vo and his sister, Hong Vo, both US citizens living in Vietnam, and their cousin, Truc Tranh Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen, in the scheme that charged up to $70,000 per visa for applicants, even if they had been previously denied. Last month, the Justice Department announced that Binh Tang Vo was sentenced to eight years in prison plus forfeiture of nearly $5.1 million. Even with that forfeiture, millions in funds allegedly obtained through the visa bribery scheme remain unaccounted for.
Sestak is the most recent consular officer to be punished for selling visas, since the State Department started investigating and prosecuting for visa fraud in 1999. A Diplomatic Security spokesperson told Vice that as of 2013, twenty-four American employees at US Embassies and Consulates worldwide have been convicted of bribery, conflicts of interest, and visa and passport fraud, including husband-and-wife team Acey Johnson and Long Lee, who were convicted in 2003 of a visa-selling scheme at the US Embassy in Hanoi that continued in Sri Lanka, earning them $700,000.
Gale Smith of Diplomatic Security said their agents are now embedded in consular affairs departments and work with local authorities to monitor fraud and corruption. “Many US embassies now have a special program within the Regional Security Office to investigate both external and employee fraud,” she stated to Vice in an email. “This special group of investigators works alongside host-country law enforcement.”